Border Reivers


Long after they were gone, the reivers were romanticized by writers such as Sir Walter Scott (Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border), although he got things wrong; the term Moss-trooper refers to one of the robbers that existed after the real Reivers had been put down.

Nevertheless, Sir Walter Scott was a native of the borders, writing down histories which had been passed on in folk tradition or ballad. The stories of legendary border reivers like Kinmont Willie Armstrong were often retold in folk-song as Border ballads. There are also local legends, such as the “Dish of Spurs” which would be served to a border chieftain of the Charltons to remind him that the larder was empty and it was time to acquire more plunder. Scottish author Nigel Tranter revisited these themes in his historical and contemporary novels.

The names of the Reiver families are still very much apparent amongst the inhabitants of the Scottish Borders, Northumberland and Cumbria today. Reiving families (particularly those large or brutal enough to carry significant influence) have left the local population passionate about their territory on both sides of the Border. Newspapers have described the local cross-border rugby fixtures as ‘annual re-runs of the bloody Battle of Otterburn’.

Despite this there has been much cross-border migration since the Pacification of the Borders, and families that were once Scots now identify themselves as English and vice versa.

Hawick in Scotland holds an annual Reivers’ festival as do the Schomberg Society in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland (the two often co-operate). The summer festival in the Borders town of Duns is headed by the “Reiver” and “Reiver’s Lass”, a young man and young woman elected from the inhabitants of the town and surrounding area. The Ulster-Scots Agency’s first two leaflets from the ‘Scots Legacy’ series feature the story of the historic Ulster tartan and the origins of the kilt and the Border Reivers.

Borderers (particularly those banished by James VI of Scotland) took part in the plantation of Ulster becoming the people known as Ulster-Scots, in America known as Scots-Irish. Reiver descendants can be found throughout Ulster with names such as Elliot, Armstrong, Beattie, Bell, Irving/Irvine, Hume and Heron, Rutledge, and Turnbulls amongst others. Irvines of Fermanagh and Castle Irvine are good examples.